Are there any sources describing what women in ancient patriarchal societies (like Greece, Rome, etc.) thought about the patriarchy? I've heard of feminist movements throughout history; this Britannica article mentions women barricading a Forum in Rome to overturn a sexist law. But do we know what any women actually thought of patriarchal laws?

Is it presentism to assume that ancient Greek women, for example, did not enjoy being unable to own property and wished they could?

  • 6
    I would assume, as in most of history, different people had different opinions. Unless the uterus has a role in the formation of opinions of which I've yet to be informed. Seriously though, in era's when women's suffrage has been debated, women have spoken out on both sides of the issue. Further, I think there is an element of "What do goldfish think about water" fallacy in the question. Patriarchy is a modern concept; I'm not sure that pre-modern people would have recognized the concept.
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 17:23
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    Literacy was a privilege of the elites. Ancient society by and large don't record the "average" person, and certainly not the average woman's thoughts.
    – Semaphore
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 17:38
  • Start from the assumption that human nature hasn't changed in the past 10 000 years. From that assumption you can see that women felt the same way about sexism then as they do now. Some don't really notice, others are more vocally opposed. The main difference should be cultural - now there is less of a penalty for going against the grain, so the vocal people would have been silenced a bit back then.
    – Cdn_Dev
    Commented Dec 13, 2019 at 19:29
  • Much improved question. Upvote
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 14, 2019 at 15:35

1 Answer 1


While probably not representative of the "average" woman, there is recorded the view of a very remarkable woman named Aspasia, who lived during Greece's Golden Age. While a young woman, Aspasia immigrated with her aristocratic family to Athens from the Greek city of Miletus, now part of Turkey. She was married to Pericles and was famous for her intelligence, conversation skills, and skill at matchmaking.

Socrates, whom I consider the founder of Western civilization and likely the most intelligent human who ever lived, was a frequent visitor to Aspasia's house. He had high praise for her and learned from her the rhetorical skills that became part of the Socratic Method. It was his regard for her that led him to say, "Once made equal to man, woman becomes his superior." (And, perhaps, it was her influence that accounts for Plato, Socrates' student, opening his lyceum 2,500 years ago, in the heart of the birthplace of the modern patriarchy, to female students.)

On her views of the patriarchy:

Aspasia, according to Socratic quotes, said, aristocratic Athenian women are prisoners of their homes and hence, limit their abilities becoming nothing more than mistresses in the truest sense, since all domestic work is performed by slaves and servants while the wives serve only as baby makers. Biography

  • To contextualize Aspasia's view and Socrates's "Once made equal to man" comment, it's probably good to add that according to historians the form of patriarchy in Athens was extremely restrictive. It was not simply division of labor; they were quite literally "prisoners of their homes," could not go outside without wearing a burqa-like covering, and were forbidden to be addressed by name in polite conversation. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_in_Classical_Athens#Seclusion
    – Avery
    Commented Dec 15, 2019 at 22:34

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